Accommodation for evacuees and the use of volunteers

The Learning process for disaster management

Graphic: Florence Dailleux

If German municipalities face an extreme event or disaster and have to evacuate parts of the civil society, they generally operate under standardised plans and the affected population can be temporary accommodated in emergency shelters. But what if they cannot return to their flats or houses for weeks or months? Many places lack concepts for such situations. The City of Cologne raised the question of how municipalities around the world are handling this issue. Connective Cities approached this question and organised a one-year international learning process on disaster management, which focused on the accommodation of evacuees as well as on the involvement of volunteers.


Dialogue event: Emergency accommodation for evacuees

The learning process began with the dialogue event on the evacuation and accommodation of evacuees from 20 to 22 March 2023 in Cologne. Almost 30 experts from Germany, Jordan, Somalia, Switzerland and the Philippines exchanged insights on how to improve the mid- to long-term accommodation of evacuees. During an excursion to the region of Ahrweiler, participants were shown how 300 refugees were accommodated in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler during the "refugee crisis" in 2015 and how people affected by the flood disaster in 2021 were temporarily offered accommodation in a tiny-house-complex in the municipality of Grafschaft.

In the discussions, for instance, Liza Velle Ramoz from the City of Makati in the Philippines presented their comprehensive disaster management, including - from the German’s point of view – its impressive evacuation centres. The participants further identified that disaster management applies the same standards worldwide - despite different contexts - and that the stakeholders therefore speak a common language. It became apparent that the voluntary commitment of volunteers, which is a central pillar of the fire department and disaster management in Germany, is unheard of in many other countries. Therefore, there was great interest in learning from the experiences in Germany.

Virtual exchange: organised volunteers and spontaneous helpers

Connective Cities addressed this request and organised a virtual event on 5 June 2023 on the coordination of organised volunteers and spontaneous helpers. Staff from the fire departments of Istanbul, Turkey and Dortmund, Germany reported on the great potential these volunteers hold for tackling disaster events. Although spontaneous helpers lack the relevant expertise, they are more aware of the needs of the local population and could - if well coordinated - effectively take on tasks such as filling sandbags during flood events. Their activities on social media could also help to quickly broadcast warnings and recommendations for action. Coordination is key to ensure that they effectively contribute to the management of an extreme event and do not unintentionally hinder the actions of disaster management personnel - consisting of professionals and organised volunteers. Also, providing the civil society with information and practical exercises are important components.

Expert exchange and project workshop between Germany and the Philippines

From 16 to 20 October 2023, three municipal experts from Bonn, Cologne and Wuppertal visited Makati and Quezon Citiy in the Philippines for an exchange of expertise. All in all, this was a win-win situation: While the German guests shared their experiences of civic engagement in disaster management and the advancement of inclusive personnel development in the fire departments, representatives of Makati's Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) presented how they plan evacuations, what facilities they have available for this and how they monitor the urban area by video. This comprehensive disaster management has been necessary since the country is repeatedly affected by earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis. The municipalities are therefore working intensively to sensitise the population and to educate citizens about disaster prevention. The city of Quezon evacuates around 16.000 people annually.



Closing event for the mid- to long-term emergency accommodation of evacuees

The learning process was concluded on 12 March 2024, almost a year after the dialogue event in Cologne took place. Virtually, the participants summarised the experiences of the past year and reported on the outcomes that had been inspired. From Quezon City, they gathered that, based on the learning process, the city will be paying more attention to the needs of evacuated children in the future and is planning to provide more safe spaces for mothers and children as well as learning materials for children in evacuation centres. From the Jordanian city of Jerash it was reported that local authorities focus on an integrated approach and work closely together in disaster management efforts. The threads would converge in the central system of the Ministry of Local Affairs and in the case of flash floods, for example, the affected municipalities would be informed via the central system.


Key achievements of the learning process:

  1. The Cologne Fire Department and the Makati Disaster Management Department are planning a Memorandum of Understanding for a mutual exchange of staff, which will focus on solutions to technical problems. The partners are planning a joint project for which they are currently looking for funding opportunities.
  2. The Philippine cities of Quezon and Makati are planning to restructure their volunteer engagement strategies and make greater use of their potential in the future.
  3. Quezon will re-evaluate its priorities in emergency accommodation for evacuees and, for example, focus more on the needs of vulnerable groups such as children, women and people with disabilities.
  4. The participants see great additional value in international exchange, would like to continue the exchange and participate in related events. For this purpose, they offer consultations to interested persons and share strategies and studies.

Findings from the learning process:

  1. The international disaster management standards are applied similarly in many countries - despite their different requirements. Thus, disaster management experts around the world speak a common language.
  2. Depending on the context, disaster management is highly technologised. However, this is not always essential for its success. Effective communication with the population, for example via the flood line, is particularly important.
  3. Disaster management often requires creativity. An impressive example for the German delegation by the Philippines was their use of urban agriculture to provide for the needs of evacuees.
  4. In order for the population to be able to help themselves in an emergency situation, they must be actively addressed and empowered to help themselves as part of disaster preparedness.
  5. The requirements for emergency shelters vary greatly depending on the context and emergency situation.

Voices of participants in the learning process:

“Speaking to eachother is good, doing things together is better. The disaster management situation in Cologne and Makati is different. Nevertheless, the cities can learn a lot from each other.”
Stefan Martini, Cologne Fire Department, Germany

“In Makati, we have started to implement what we have learnt over the past year in our strategies. This has a greater impact than simply implementing programmes.”
Liza Velle Ramos, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, Makati City Council, Philippines

“If we implement just ten per cent of the ideas we brought back from the Philippines, we can make our urban society much more resilient.”
Tim Luhmann, Wuppertal Fire Department, Germany

Connective Cities